Fernando Torres – an expensive mistake or merely a sleeping giant?

In his first three Liverpool seasons and during the time of Spain’s triumphant Euro 2008 campaign, Fernando Torres would have been involved in most discussions on who was the world’s best striker. His recent move to Chelsea came with a price tag that suggested as much, but at least until now the sinking Spaniard has failed to pay back a penny of the £50m fee paid to Liverpool for his services. Ability cannot disappear, but where exactly is Torres’ talent hiding?

In eight league appearances for his new club in all competitions, Torres has mustered just 16 shots and has hit the target in just three of his matches, less than a third of overall shots testing the goalkeeper. Goals is the obvious statistic to look at regarding how well a striker is performing, of which Torres has zero, but without an assist to his name either the Spaniard has not been directly involved in any goal Chelsea have scored since his arrival. Indeed, they have only scored six goals in the league while Torres has been on the pitch, but have managed nine when he has been either taken off, brought on or as an unused substitute. And that he has played 455 minutes of the possible 710 since his signing in January suggests he is currently more of a hindrance to his teammates than he is helpful.

Furthermore, Torres’ movement replicates how he was playing for Liverpool for the half season before his big-money move – the aforementioned two shots per appearance showing he is not finding the right positions a striker should. Criticism was levelled at him that his heart was no longer with the club, but we are seeing the same sluggish, lightweight performances at his new club, which was supposed to be a fresh start in a new city. Last weekend against Wigan, in more than half an hour on the pitch, he touched the ball seven times, passing it five times and losing out the other two. Is this a sign his teammates feel his lack of confidence and are not giving him the ball or that his lack of self-belief is causing him to hide during matches?

The downfall is remarkable, considering this is a player who scored 18 in 22 last season and 81 in all competitions in his three-and-a-half seasons at Anfield. From being excellent throughout the Euro 2008 tournament and scoring the only goal in the final he has become a shadow of the player Rafael Benitez brought to England. Several times the tormentor of one of the league’s most composed centre-backs, Nemanja Vidic, the 27-year-old has become a striker who now finds himself in the pockets of defences with far less ability than Manchester United’s. The problems seem to have appeared overnight, but in truth he has not been the same player for some time, with the summer a likely time as to where the issues began.

When Benitez left Liverpool for Inter last summer, Torres found his situation insecure, which led to a disjointed World Cup 2010 performance on the fringes of the Spanish side, and upon his return to England had a new manager with a very different philosophy. Torres is undoubtedly a confidence forward and when made into the star of a team – as he was under Benitez at Liverpool – he performs as well as any striker, yet under a manager who placed the emphasis on a complete team performance he struggled. The head went down and, ultimately, the Spaniard managed just nine goals in 23 league games for the Reds this season. He also ended with his lowest shot accuracy since arriving on Merseyside at just under 41%.

For Liverpool, Torres was the main man up front, usually accompanied by Steven Gerrard just behind. At Chelsea, new boss Carlo Ancelotti has attempted to bed his star into his team in numerous formations, yet so far with no success. He has played alongside Didier Drogba in a strike pairing and, more recently, has been tested as the focal point in Chelsea’s more recognised 4-3-3 formation. Ancelotti’s decision to play the Spaniard over the Ivorian has been criticised, because now that Drogba has worked his way back into the line-up he has far outperformed his teammate, with another goal in the first half against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

With no success for Torres in the Champions League either, as his side crashed out in the quarter-finals, he now has six more league games in which to make an impact to give Chelsea fans some hope he might yet pay back his fee. It is far too early to claim Torres has been a waste of money as there is surely still little doubt he will, sooner or later, return to the player he really is.

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